Back when I lived in my hometown, I would often go for late night drives on the back roads whenever I felt restless. The town was small, surrounded by forests and farmlands so once you got away from the main street there was hardly any traffic, even in the day. Once night fell, the roads were totally dead, the perfect place to go to think things over, or just step back and be alone. I used to turn the radio on low, scroll through the local channels, or just let my thoughts mull in my head to the background of the engine humming.
The last time I went out on one of these drives, however, it ended up giving me a lot more to think of than I had hoped for. At the time I was dealing with some personal stuff that I'd rather not admit to people that I don't really know, but I hoped that once I got out on the road, alone, I would be able to start setting things straight in my mind. I pulled out onto one of the smaller highways right around the time that the sun was setting and turned on my radio to scan through the local stations. As usual in this area, most of them came in with some interference, a trade off you when you live in the more secluded parts of the country. The static was even worse than normal, and having a car with a pretty weak antenna, that was really saying something. I turned the dial back to off and decided that tonight I could get along with just the road noise for company.
It was a nice night, and I had left earlier than I typically did so I ended up straying pretty far from the my customary back roads and ended up in an area I wasn't familiar with. This didn't really concern me as I have a pretty good sense of direction and there was lots of gas still in the tank. I turned the radio back on in order to see if there were some better stations around these parts. Flipping through them got me some of the same stations as earlier, but even more garbled than before, as well as one or two new god awful pop country stations that seemed to be coming stronger than the rest. I kept scrolling through white noise until I came upon a pretty clear signal that sounded like a DJ talking in between tracks. Hopeful that I had finally found a tolerable station, I waited to see what song he would play next. He talked for a bit about how he would be getting to some new tracks later in the night, but first he had some things he wanted to talk about. He launched into a full scale deconstruction of the court system, how bullshit it was that someone could be accused of something with little to no evidence. He began naming off dozens of cases of wrongful convictions, and explaining about how even if you were proven innocent, you aren’t free and clear from legal costs, or the disdain of your peers. I hadn’t been listening to the station very long when the white noise started to crowd the signal, but it was still strong enough that he was mostly audible.
“You know, an accusation like that doesn’t exist in a bubble, rumors spread, and there is no such thing as presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion, But hey, that's just the way it is.”
As static started to take over his voice, I remember hearing him say:
“You never know who really is there for you when you need it, and sometimes it turns out that there’s nobody.”
Right around then I lost the signal completely. It took me a few minutes to find a road to turn onto to get back in range, and slowly the signal started to grow stronger. It only could have taken a few minutes to get back onto a parallel road, but in that time he had gotten much more agitated and frantic, the first thing that came across the speaker being a lamentation of his own isolation, something along the lines of:
“Hell, God didn’t make man to handle things all on his own, it's even worse when you get a little taste of what it's like to count on someone, but to suddenly find out that at the slightest provocation they turn tail and run.”
He went on like this for a while longer, and my interest changed from some minor curiosity about this guy to genuine concern. I knew nothing about him and had only heard him speaking for a few minutes at most, but the inflection in his voice and what he was saying really drew me in. Meanwhile, he continued on his tirade: “Fuck, maybe they weren’t in the wrong after all, maybe I’m just such a problem to be around that they just needed an excuse to leave. Probably would make it easier on everyone if they never had to think of me again.” I knew that I had to try and find this guy, to talk him down, or at least understand what caused him to get to this point.
Based on how quickly I lost and regained the signal, I figured that the broadcast had a pretty limited range and it soon dawned on me that it must be the forest to my right, as I had been driving past the block when I first got within range, and had turned back onto when I picked him up again. At the time I assumed that the broadcast must be one of those smaller pirate radio stations, and that he was working out of the plot of land I was driving past at that very instant.
I figured there must be a driveway somewhere, for him to have gotten a radio outfit into the woods which made up the plot to the right of me, and I hadn’t remembered passing by any obvious ones while on the other two roads, so I kept my eyes peeled for one on this side road. Meanwhile the station had gotten disturbingly silent, with the once animated host not uttering a word. This worried me even more than when he had been frantic. Unsure of what this really meant, I started to speed up, now going well above the speed limit, desperately searching for a turn off, or opening where I could enter the dense forest.
The static picked up again as I got further down the road, and as much as I hated losing his broadcast, I had no choice but to keep driving until I saw a turn off. I nearly drove past it before I slammed on my brakes and made a hard right turn onto an overgrown, potholed, dirt road that led right into the heart of the woods.
Soon after I got on the road, the signal came back. He was much more quiet and reserved now, and very far away from the microphone. He was nearly inaudible until I cranked the volume as high as I could.
“So, I hope you enjoyed this last broadcast from the Red Cabin station, because I really fucking didn’t. I’m sure it wasn’t what you expected, but hey that's life, ain’t it?”
In the background I could hear something being moved around, like a desk or chair being dragged across the floor. The last thing he said was:
“Who am I kidding, it's not like anyone is really listening anyway."
I heard a clattering, something big and heavy falling over, and the signal went silent. Not into static but completely silent.
It took a few very long minutes to reach the end of the dirt road after things went quiet. It opened into a kind of semi-clearing with lots of brush and some short, stunted saplings. I could see nothing but woods surrounding me, with the exception of the occasional pair of headlights driving on the highway in the distance. There were no lights shining from a cabin’s windows, and no shadows in the woods that could even look like the outline of a building. I got out of my car to get a better look, standing in the glow of my headlights, I circled the clearing. As I got to the far left of the clearing, I got a better look at one of the shadows I thought was just another tree, and as I closed in on it I saw that it was the stump of a small radio tower, the type that old TV antennas would be mounted on. I could see now that it was badly rusted, with some pits so deep in the frame that they ran all the way through.
Despite the condition of it, I couldn’t help but feel vindicated, that this could certainly have been where the signal could have originated. Spurred on by this, I ran across the clearing, looking for anything that could bolster this discovery. About half way across, however, I tripped and fell flat on my face. When I looked back to see what had sent me sprawling, I could clearly see a fragment of concrete sticking out of the ground. I rose to my feet, and looking around I saw the outline of a concrete foundation for a small building, or cabin.
I searched the entire woodlot that night, desperate to find the broadcast station of the tiny radio channel, and discover the fate of this strange narrator. In the end, there was only the foundation and a crooked antenna tower, and I had no choice but to get back in my car and take the long drive home. As I drove out of the clearing, I noticed that the white noise had come back and I left the radio off for the rest of the night.
For a short time after, I asked around the area if there were any pirate radio stations out in the sticks, or if anyone knew of the broadcast. None of my friends had heard of any local independent broadcasters, certainly none by the name of “Red Cabin Station”.
Undeterred, I asked my parents, and their friends. A few remembered tuning into a illegal stations in their youth, and told me of the weird unlicensed music they heard presented by nearly deranged DJ's, and how interesting it was to them at the time. But none had heard of the one I encountered, and most even seemed to be utterly bemused by the idea that there would be any around in modern times.
The only time I got anything remotely close to closure in my experience was talking to the elderly clerk at the county gas station. He didn't know anything about the “Red Cabin” per-say, but he expressed a great interest in my story. Once he heard the whole thing through he relayed to me some folk knowledge; radio waves didn't just fade once a broadcast finished, the energy from those transmissions would bounce around space, the more energy in the broadcast, the longer it would stick, just like an echo.
These days I don’t listen to the radio often, the last thing I want to do is find another echo like that.